David Law ~ The Map of the World
Canada’s new Liberal Government, which so many of us voted for, is dooming its own prospects by clinging to an out-dated, morally bankrupt policy towards Islamist ideology and terror. Sunny ways are fine and good, but true optimists are realistic enough to face evil and fight it. Phony optimists just tell us what we want to hear. This choice, above all others, will write the story of the Trudeau government.
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There’s a map of the world behind the bar of this Starbucks. It’s glued up, next to the shelves of syrup and coffee beans, in the back corner. It may be a Peters Projection – hard to tell from here, but Africa dominates and Europe seems a straggle of tiny peninsulas. Not the map they used to hang in school. On it is a single white tag, stuck somewhere near the Ecuador-Colombia border. I bet some fancy fair trade coffee plants are growing on that spot.
Starbucks, like its local and global competitors everywhere, represents an everyman’s apogee of modernity: the goods come from around the planet; the equipment is built as solidly as a BMW; the barristas are uniformly smooth, adept and pleasant. They turn all these parts into a mean cuppa joe. And the room – “the space” – is airy but woodily warm, with durable furnishings. The air is invisibly thick with wireless signals. The only thing wrong is that there aren’t enough plugs. But you know they’ll fix that eventually.
You have to feel lucky in this place, because you are lucky to be here. Commerce has delivered you to a sociable yet tranquil island, where you can rest, work, recreate or just juice up with caffeine. All for a few bucks. Everyone in here knows it’s worth the price. We know that because everyone here is paying the price.
Nozzles gurgle, grinders briefly roar and shriek, mincing the beans down to tasty dust. Chairs scrape the polished concrete floor. We sip our lattes, ear buds flooding our brains with digital music droplets, our minds swim with strumming guitars and plaintive voices – “the words of the prophet are written on the subway walls and tenement halls…”
Far away from this cozy sanctuary, waits the beast. The beast of random stone cold madness, masquerading as the fever for God. Wild-eyed savagery, delivered by coolly packaged parcel. Suicidal losers, about to donate their organs to the twisted remains of a car. A host of gnarled, hunch-souled alleged true believers, trafficking in mayhem and blood soaked sorrow. Practising weirdly premeditated cruelty, puncturing bodies with bullets, lopping off limbs and heads, shredding flesh with crude but efficient bombs.
We, we here in our peaceful western cafe, we know it is happening but like the traffic outside the glass, we don’t hear what passes by. Sure, we see it almost every day now on the news: the phantom theatre of terror carried-out by the bad actors of various Islamist clubs. They compete for attention – do they count the tweets? But our attention wanes. We colour our profile pictures in emotionally supportive stripes and try not to imagine what it’s like to be on the floor of the nightclub when young Mohammed points his gun. And we never imagine what it’s like to be young Mohammed.
For some time now we have absorbed the dark reality that many people have parted ways with traditional civilization, in any form, and have embarked on a new path of depravity. There is nothing new about evil, but its clothes are new: ladies pulling blades out from under their hijabs, school boys firing bullets into the heads of kneeling soldiers, little girls wrapped up in a snowsuit of explosives, wandering into a crowd of churchgoers. There’s yet another video – this one of 200 cowering children being executed – if you need further proof. The Nazis were new in their time; now we have the Islamists.
My country Canada has, for some years now, enacted a feeble pantomime of resolve against the Islamist scourge. We have contributed to the fight, although far less than our resources would permit. The previous government was bellicose, but largely a toothless old hound: when not sniffing its own hindquarters, it was mainly content to bark and let the noise be a bubble of imaginary merit.
The new government appears more honest at least – it’s not even pretending to take the problem seriously. It tut-tuts and moans but is not saying it will do anything about a problem it will not do anything about. For that, I suppose, it deserves credit. In truth, the present government of Canada appears to represent public sentiment: content to sit in the coffee shop, not looking out the window, absolutely unsure what to do – so absolutely sure it will do nothing at all.
When I say most Canadians are content to do nothing, I mean nothing about the actual problem of Islamist ideology and Islamist violence. We are, however, helping out a small but real part of the mass human debris of the battle. Millions have rushed away from the madness and Canada will make considerable noise about a few thousand landing at our larger airports, soon after to disappear into whatever motel rooms the taxpayers can find for them. It is a true kindness and not to be sniffed at.
But it is the type of kindness we do for a dying man – a rolled-up coat under his neck while his guts leak out of the wound in his belly. When an Islamist fool murdered a Canadian soldier on the street outside my office in 2014, a good and kind woman held the dying victim and whispered to him, “you are loved.” It was a beautiful thing to do. One suspects we will be doing a lot of that, one way or the other.
So we can feel good about ourselves for being kind. We should not feel good about ourselves elsewise. Our people and our government are in the grip of soft, mushy liberal denial. It’s understandable: who wants to stand on the brink of an epochal struggle? Who wants to engage in such a war? Only two kinds of people choose that fight: the madmen starting it and the wise men willing to end it. At present, the former seem to outnumber the latter. And the killers’ grenades are louder than sound arguments.
This, sadly, is the situation we have placed ourselves in. The Conservatives’ contribution to the war on Islamism may have been mainly noise, but the barking at least made up for any lack of bite. Now we are just gumming our way through it. I am less concerned with the world thinking us senseless cowards (although that is a concern) than with our actually being senseless cowards. And the government should be worried about that too. Because they can’t escape it.
If we remain deaf to it – pretend it all away – an inner corrosion will creep through us, as we fail to act. The problem you ignore may ignore you for a long time, but the knowledge of it – below the level of consciousness, and the awareness of your own indecision, cowardice and denial – THAT can really kill you and make life miserable on the way to the grave. (To examine the results of ignoring a disaster, visit the remains of Cambodia’s genocide and remember, Canadians were disco dancing during that.)
Thinking women and men know a few things: the Islamists mean to keep killing and if they must die to do it, they will. Their disparate clubs are dedicated to localized chaos, in hopes of creating a wider climate of fear and retrenchment. Our governments are afraid to stop them. They know, correctly, that for every Islamist we lay in his grave, an orphan will hold a millennial grudge. So we quake in dread of being forever unloved by the people who already hate us, ignoring the truth that if the west fails to murder the Islamists soon, our own orphans will hate us even more.
It may well be that many young people, today tilting on the edge of becoming homicidal idiots in the service of their so-called God, can be held back from the brink. Maybe there’s a song we can sing them that will make them swoon, turning glow-eyed with appreciation for the warm comforts of capitalism, cappuccino and condom machines. Maybe. But it is likely that many are already too far gone. All that keeps them from contributing to the body count is opportunity. Certainly we aren’t doing much to keep the guns out their hands.
The liberal and progressive-minded among us (most of us, me much of the time) believe that bombing the Middle East has been a disastrous strategy. It was, but at the moment it may actually be part of a necessary war against an inevitable enemy. The government is not wrong to say there is more we can do – different things – but like it or not, shovelling the horse’s shit ain’t quite the same thing as riding the horse into battle.
Canada’s current policy is untenable, because it is unstable and wrong: we are trapped in indecision, holding to an arbitrary decision to withdraw from the fight, at the very time the fight is escalating and exploding in new places. It is morally wrong to abandon millions of people (mostly Muslim) to the violence and slavery promised them by the ISIS-Al Qaeda-Boko Haram. We know it in our bones.
Our bones will not accept it. You can feel it already, a metastasis in the body politic. Quiet now but restlessly growing under the skin. No person or polity can long carry on, with such a cancer of indecision and cowardice corroding their interior life. All of our new government’s rosy dreams and worthy schemes will be consumed by this tumour, unless it is excised. We must act against the evil in the world.
Two things are knowable: we are going to live and then we are going to die. Two questions must be answered: how shall we live, and how shall we die? Think, feel, love, be kind and be as wise as you can be. But do not hide too long, or someone else will decide for you, how it is you live and how it is you die.
Time for another coffee.
Visit David Laws blog at Think Anew, Act Anew
David Law is a lawyer and law professor based in Ottawa.